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A somewhat uneven but undeniably affecting work from Austria that depicts a seemingly contented manís descent into hallucination, paranoia and, finally, total insanity.  It was scripted by filmmaker Michael Haneke, Europeís master of all things unpleasant, so you can expect a profoundly bleak, nightmarish account that pulls no punches. 

The Package 
     THE MOORíS HEAD (DER KOPT DES MOHREN; 1995), about a madman who creates a self-sufficient universe inside his apartment in the fear that toxic gas is decimating the outside world, was written by the brilliant Michael Haneke, and if youíve seen his other films youíll notice echoes of Hanekeís SEVENTH CONTINENT (about a suburban family who, unable to cope with the pressures of the modern world, barricade themselves in their home and commit collective suicide) and THE PIANO TEACHER (about a severely repressed woman who loses her mind when a handsome young man reawakens her slumbering passions).  The film also has much in common with Akira Kurosawaís 1955 classic I LIVE IN FEAR (about a man who, believing a nuclear war is imminent, goes mad) and Todd Haynesí SAFE (about a woman who becomes ďallergic to the Twentieth CenturyĒ), which, interestingly enough, was released the same year as THE MOORíS HEAD--I guess there was there was something in the air that year!
     Michael Haneke apparently wanted to direct THE MOORíS HEAD himself, but for whatever reason that chore ended up in the hands of Paulus Manker (WEININGERíS NIGHT, 1989), a talented but less distinctive filmmaker.

The Story
     Georg H. is a scientist who runs a testing lab in suburban Austria.  Heís married to Anna, a pleasant housewife with whom he has three children.  Everything, it seems, is right in Georgís world...until one day at work he hears over his radio that thereís been a catastrophic accident at a local chemical plant, which has leaked toxic gas into the atmosphere.  His co-workers arenít terribly concerned, but Georg is deeply alarmed by the news--so much so that he begins experiencing gruesome hallucinations involving flayed corpses and dripping blood.  Convinced Armageddon is at hand, he decides to take action.  While Anna and the kids are away on a trip Georg hauls several mounds of planting soil up to his upper floor apartment and, utilizing artificial sunlamps, creates an indoor garden in which he grows a number of edible crops.  He completes this self-sufficient environment with several rabbits and birds, and also takes to obsessively recording his phone conversations so heíll have a record for posterity. 
     Anna and the kids return from their trip and are, as you might guess, shocked at what they find.  Georg barricades them all inside the apartment, explaining that they wonít be able to leave for some time.  Later that night he spots what he thinks is a prowler breaking in and nails the person in the head with a blunt object...but that person turns out to be Anna, who, it seems, heís killed.  Georg decides to finish what he inadvertently started by offing his kids with a steak knife and then massacring his rabbits and birds--but does he really?  Because at this point Georg is so far gone he no longer knows whatís real and whatís not...and neither, for that matter, does the viewer! 

The Direction 
     I really hate to make a nonexistent comparison, but I canít help but wonder what this film might look like had Michael Haneke been allowed to direct his screenplay.  In his hands Iím certain THE MOORíS HEAD would be an emotionally devastating, cinematically dazzling powerhouse.  Thatís not to say the film isnít plenty powerful in its present form, just that it isnít in the same league as Hanekeís self-directed films.  Director Paulus Manker has an unfortunate penchant for commercial sentimentality and melodrama that really donít belong in the rigorous and unflinching narrative Haneke has constructed.  Also, Manker has trouble sustaining viewer interest in much of the first half, which appears intended to impart a near-imperceptible tension that culminates in the nightmarish final third (a la Hanekeís SEVENTH CONTINENT, whose early scenes seem suspenseful despite the fact that little actually happens). 
     Still, Manker does coax a fine performance out of actor Gert Voss in the lead role (and a decent one out of THE TIN DRUMíS Angela Winkler as Vossís wife) and pulls off some crackling sequences, particularly in the final scenes when the main characterís insanity reaches its peak, with reality and hallucination becoming literally indistinguishable.  There are some profoundly repellant scenes herein: check out what Mr. Voss does to his face with a knife...and just try not to flinch!   

Vital Statistics 

Wega Film Productions

Director: Paulus Manker
Producer: Veit Heiduschka
Screenplay: Michael Haneke
Cinematography: Walter Kindler
Editing: Michael Hudecek, Marie Homolkova
Cast: Gert Voss, Angela Winkler, Manuel Loffler, Leni Tanzer, Oana Solomonescu, Michael Greiling, Heinrich Herki, Bert Oberdorfer, Rosalinde Renn, Hilde Sochor

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